Friday, 18 February 2011

Gyaku Zuki - odd punch out?

I have been working on individual kihon techniques quite a lot recently as part of my shodan preparations and have come to the conclusion that gyaku zuki (reverse punch) is the odd man out. Gyaku zuki is often considered to be the definitive punch in karate with lots written about it's bio mechanics and its ability to deliver a hard, powerful punch.

If you think about it though the principle of the reverse punch is contra to just about every other technique in karate. Let me explain.....

A while back I wrote an article about nanba aruki which is a principle of moving in which the same arm and leg are moved together so that movement pivots around the centre line of the body. The Japanese people used to walk like this all the time prior to the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century after which they started to adopt all things Western, including walking with opposing arms and legs. However the principle of nanba aruki in inherent in most classical martial arts.

Lets think of a few techniques and examine whether they use nanba aruki principles:
oi zuki (lunge punch) - yes (punching over the leading leg)
sekyaku zuki (half step punch) - yes (punch with same leg that you step with)
maeken zuki (leading hand punch) - yes ( leading hand pulls back and then punches out over leading leg)
empi (elbow) strikes - yes (if you step back into cat stance to strike behind you its same side arm as leg. If you step forward to strike it's also the same side.)

Common combinations of stances and blocks:
Niko ashi dachi (cat stance) with shuto uchi uke (knife hand strike)- yes
Kokutsu dachi (back stance) with gedan barai (downward sweeping block) - yes
Sanchin dachi (hour glass stance) with tsukami uke (2 handed grasping block) - yes

All tai sabaki movements utilise nanba aruki as well - it's quicker and more efficient to move this way.

Then there's gyaku zuki! This punch is generally performed in zenkutsu dachi (forward stance) though it can be performed in cat stance. Whatever the stance, by definition the gyaku zuki contradicts the principle of nanba aruki and is therefore definitely the odd man out!

So where has it come from? I'm not doubting for one moment the effectiveness of this punch, merely the origin. If you examine the kata you find that the gyaku zuki does not appear very often. I could only examine the kata that I know but I have found that the older the kata the less likely you are to see gyaku zuki. In the kyu grade kata of our system the gyaku zuki appears in only 5 out of 13 kata: Pinan shodan, Pinan godan, Annanku, Neiseishi and Matsukazi (Wankan). The Pinans and Annanku are relatively modern kata (late 19th, early 20th Century), Neiseishi has many versions, some of them fairly modern i.e early 20th Century. However all these kata were developed post Meiji restoration and are all Shuri te or Tomari te kata. The exception to the rule is Matsukazi kata which is very ancient (its origin may be 400 years old), its roots are in the Hakkyoku ken system from Northern China.

I initially thought that the gyaku zuki was a modern addition to karate (20th century) but the fact that it is in Matsukazi kata suggests that it has been around a while. However I would suspect that it has been popularised by the rise in sports karate during the mid-late 20th century and by the fact that the Japanese adopted Western principles of movement in sport.

What do you think about gyaku zuki? Old or modern? Odd man out? Do you know any other karate techniques that are contra to the nanba aruki principle?
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Charles James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles James said...

Ops, mind on wrong technique...ergo deleted comment. Rather a good post tho, thanks Sue!

Journeyman said...

Good post.

For self defense, I rarely rely on the reverse punch. In fact, lately I've nearly abandoned it from most of my techniques.

As we use many strikes to 'enter' into techniques, more often than not I'm using straight punches, without rotating my fist (index finger on top, pinky on bottom. It seems to be faster and less prone to injury. It's still just a working theory with me, but I enjoyed your more in-depth examination. Thanks.

Sue C said...

Hi Charles, thank you!

Journeyman, I think that vertical punch that you are adopting is the standard way of punching in Isshin ryu karate - they obviously think it's better too!

Charles James said...

Better, not necessarily; simpler, yes...keep it simple for fighting.

Practitioner of Isshinryu 32 years so far...

Etali said...

Interesting post! I'm going to try walking in nanba aruki now to see if it helps with my lack of hip movement!

I do Shukokai too. I'm only a purple belt, so don't know many Kata yet, but Jurokuno has gyaku-tsuki in it too. Is Jurokuno a kata my school has borrowed from another art?

I'll be watching for it in later kata when I learn them, it's an interesting thing to think about!

Journeyman said...

Sue (and Mr. James)

I did not know that about Isshin ryu. You've given me some homework. Thanks.

Sue C said...

Charles, I agree - keep it simple!

Etali, you're right! Gyaku zuki does appear in Juroko no kata as well (I missed that one). Then again Juroko no kata is pretty modern having been developed by Mabuni Kenwa himself and is therefore very much a shito ryu and (by extension) a shukokai kata.

Journeyman, I'll be checking later that you did your homework! :-)

Fran said...

Very interesting Post. The Reverse Punch does seem to be the "Odd Punch Out". Personally I love using this Punch when I Spar. Mine "according to my Sensei" is my strongest and best punch".

The Reverse Punch does not appear in many Katas. There seems to be a lot of Junzuki but not too many Reverses. Makes one wonder why not so many Reverse Punches in Kata. Perhaps I ought to ask my Sensei that question.

Journeyman said...

Yikes! Keeping me honest...gulp...


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